Monday, February 20, 2012

Barney Frank and the cause of our budget impasse

Commenting on the Reform Act that extended voting rights beyond the middle class in England for the first time, Walter Bagehot noted that for many years the conduct of politicians had kept what he thought were its dangerous tendencies in check.

Thus he declared…a great responsibility rested on the new generation of statesmen.  They should avoid raising issues which would bind the poor together as a class, should not make them think that some new law could ensure their comfort or that the government possessed some inexhaustible fund from which all their wants could be supplied…’The wide gift of the elective franchise will be a great calamity to the whole nation, and to those who gain it as great a calamity as any…In plain English, what I fear is that both our political parties will bid for the support of the working man; that both of them will promise to do as he likes if he will only tell them what it is; that, as he now holds the casting vote in our affairs, both parties will beg and pray him to give that vote to them…I can conceive of nothing more corrupting or worse…  Vox populi will be Vox diaboli if worked in that manner.’”

It is amusing, given our current circumstances, to read the writer of the introduction, from which this came, proclaiming that “Bagehot’s gloomy prognostications have not been fulfilled.”  But that was 1966—although even by then it is doubtful whether Bagehot’s reading could be so easily dismissed in England-- and one might say, wait awhile.  Bagehot’s prediction was based on a sound reading of what was embedded in electoral reform, and its failure to fully assert itself didn’t mean the inclination could be dismissed.

Which is, perhaps, a too lengthy lead in to statements made by Barney Frank as relayed in a post on Contentions by Peter Wehner.   On the current budget impasse Mr. Frank said:

“…the problem, at its core, is ‘indecision on the part of the voters.’ He pointed out that Congress is not an autonomous instrument that operates on its own; public opinion has a lot of influence. ‘The public has a question it has to resolve,’ according to Frank. ‘The public wants a certain level of government activity but it wants to provide a level of revenue that’s not enough for that activity.’ The main reason we have a budget deficit is there’s ‘a greater public demand for services than there is a willingness to pay the taxes.’”

Mr. Wehner and Barney Frank are correct that the voting public is complicit in this, I’ve said the same before, but Frank is being disingenuous as well, gliding over his own rather marked complicity in this state of affairs.  Barney Frank’s entire career has been devoted to the cause of convincing voters that they should demand more services and that there was always somebody else willing to pay for it.  Nobody has been less statesmen, more Vox diaboli than Barney Frank.

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